Saturday, January 28, 2017
January has been guest star month on the situation comedy that is Mexpatriate.
And here we are. The full ensemble cast. Well, here they are. Someone had to snap the shot.
You have met everyone by name. With the exception of my Air Force friend, Robin Olson. He is on your far left.
I have worn many hats over the years. And, from each of my various incarnations, I have kept in touch with at least a few people.
Rob and I first met in California in 1972, and we have been close friends since, wandering off on adventures in Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, Minnesota, and, in 1973, a three-day whirlwind drive in my recently-acquired 240Z from Oregon to New York City where he saw me off on my assignment in Greece.
He now spends his winters in Arizona and the rest of the year in South Dakota. With this visit, we can add Mexico to our list of adventures. He has been here for a week and is heading north today.
My brother, Darrel, and his wife, Christy, are seated next to Rob. As you know, they are staying at the house until April. In truth, I think they are auditioning whether or not I make a good roommate.
The other three are the motorcycle crew (moving to mexico -- driving the demons). I have been introducing Laura to everyone here as my daughter. That is not legally accurate, but it is effectively true. Her husband is Josh. Their son is Jeremiah.
They had not intended to be part of our ensemble for quite this long. Over a week ago, the three of them went on a beach trip on the motorcycle. The beach was great. The trip not so much. The drive went out on the motorcycle on their way back to the house.
Josh is currently shipping parts north and new parts are being shipped south. Sometime next week, he will have the motorcycle ready to head out again. He hopes.
We are all extremely thankful they broke down here rather than on some back road in Sinaloa. We have had some good times together.
Yesterday, I took Rob, Laura, Josh, and Jeremiah to one of my favorite guest stops -- the crocodiles of La Manzanilla. When I first visited the crocodiles in 2007, their habit was natural. The crocodiles could be seen on the streets around their little lagoon -- or on the beach next to the restaurants. It was fun to see them because it felt dangerous.
The ejido has now built a well-considered nature trail made of rather thin palm timbers and two suspension bridges that would thrill Indiana Jones. We felt as if we were actually part of the lagoon system -- with its flitting birds, scurrying crabs, and, of course, the stars of the show: the crocodiles.
Even though, I have lived near crocodiles for years, I still get a thrill out of seeing these Buick-sized carnivores up close. It is easy to imagine being dragged into the depths of the lagoon by one of these beasts.
Jeremiah, Laura, and Josh had their own close encounter with a crocodile. Admittedly, it was a juvenile. Three years old. But there was never any doubt that it was a wild animal. None of us succumbed to Disney anthropomorphism.
And no trip to La Manzanilla would be complete without a trip to Lora Loka -- my brother's favorite restaurant for shrimp enchilada bake with verde sauce. We had fish and chips, but we took his meal back to the house for him. He was fraternally grateful.
Even better, though, The five crocodile hunters enjoyed sitting by Tenacatita Bay listening to the waves and watching the sun set in a clear sky. And, for our patience, we were rewarded with a green flash.
No episode of Friends could have been as enriching.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
st. francis of iguana
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (or, at least, an hour's drive from here), a man had a dream. What would the world be like if mankind could live in harmony with other creatures?
The man is Ramon Medina Archundia. And he started with the green iguana.
It was a good choice. Even though iguana have a wide range in Mexico, they are in constant danger of being reduced to leather for handbags or a rather stringy stew. In my neighborhood, large iguana quickly disappear.
Knowing that, about 40 years ago, Ramon started protecting the iguana in his Manzanillo neighborhood. The word spread. People started bringing him both healthy and injured animals.
Over the years, he has turned his property into the perfect sanctuary for green iguana. There are guamuchil trees for sunbathing, a drainage canal for the occasional splash, and plenty of food provided by Ramon and his family.
Best of all, the iguana are free to come and go -- if they choose. But what would be the point? The sanctuary is a secure place to fill a belly and find a mate. Outside its walls, death lurks.
The government has played political games with Ramon over the years. The parties pledge solidarity with him, but he produces zero revenue in taxes because the sanctuary charges no admission fee. That is one reason the government attempted to shut him down a year ago -- flying the usual smokescreen of environmental protection.
What visitors do receive is an informal background briefing on why the iguana are there and how they live out their lives. When we visited yesterday, the main topic was why the iguana were eating so languidly; the weather had been too cool for a couple of weeks. After all, they are reptiles.
We were given the opportunity to see the iguana up close and personal. There is a police tape barrier to keep people from stampeding the herd. (There are over 600 in residence.) However, with a little patience, they will wander almost within reach.
The sanctuary also includes some small enclosures with wild boar, a very friendly raccoon, coati-mundis, parrots, and two magnificent caracara. The small enclosures are a stark contrast to the freedom of the iguana. Even so, Ramon obviously dotes on the animals he is protecting.
While we were wandering through the sanctuary, I thought of Ramon's commitment to improving man's relationship with animals, and thought about the big game fish tournament I attended over the weekend in Barra de Navidad. I will let the photograph speak for itself.
Monday, January 23, 2017
moving to mexico -- best place in the world to retire
Situation comedies have more begats than Genesis and Matthew combined. We call them spin-offs.
You know the drill. A situation comedy attains stratospheric ratings, and the producers decide it is time to let one of the ensemble prove his individual chops.
Thus, December Bride begat Pete and Gladys. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis begat Gilligan's Island. Cheers begat Frasier.
Mexpatriate may have its own spinoff. Or, at least, a cousin program.
And cousin is the correct adjective. You have already met the author. My cousin, Dan (white like me). Dan, his wife Patty, and I took a month-long swing through southern Mexico two years ago.
They were looking for a place to alight in retirement. And they have found it -- in a small Gulf-side village north of Merida in Yucatan.
Dan played with the idea of writing a blog, but decided instead to keep us informed of his new life through a series of well-written and well-considered email. If I get his permission, I may share one or two with you in the near future. Even if it fails the full definition of a spin-off, any good situation comedy is always improved with a couple of episodes featuring a guest star turn.
Dan did provide me, though, with some fodder for this essay. He directed me to International Living's "The World's Best Places to Retire 2017." According to the survey, I made a wise choice in 2009. Mexico is this year's winner.
International Living's recommendations should be taken with a Siberian salt mine's worth of caution. The company is best known for selling a newsletter about the sybaritic joys of living abroad -- as well as being unabashed shills for flogging overpriced real estate to gullible Americans and Canadians. You can see how the two goals easily mesh.
And then there is the usual caution that any survey of "best places" is nothing more than subjective opinion crammed into an objective party dress. What I consider to be best is hardly what others consider to be best. The debate that goes on between coastal dwellers and denizens of the highlands in Mexico is proof of that.
But the methodology has the appearance of being comprehensive. A 100 point rating is awarded in ten categories: "buying and renting," "benefits and discounts," "visas and residence," "cost of living," "fitting in," "entertainment and amenities," "health care," "healthy lifestyle," "infrastructure," and "climate."
Even though Mexico did not come first in any of the ten categories, it managed to rate high enough overall to take away this year's best retirement spot.
And that just about sums up my experience in Mexico. The place has a lot of imperfections. But it is the imperfections that attracted me. I wanted some place that would present me with enough difficulties to make life challenging -- and worth living. And Mexico fits the bill perfectly.
Is Mexico the best place to retire? Not for everyone. But it certainly is for me. And for my cousin Dan.
And, as Calypso used to say: STAY TUNED. You may get to hear Dan's voice in the near future -- from his new home in award-winning Mexico.
Friday, January 20, 2017
anita sends her thanks
I just received a thank you note from John Wilson's wife, Anita. She wanted to let each of you know, who commented on John's life in calypso is dead, how much she appreciated everything you wrote.
Rather than add it as a coda to the rest of the comments, I have decided to publish it separately. She is an extremely gracious woman.
Excuse the silence of not responding so quickly.
Thank you all for the kind words and memories about John. I was overjoyed when Steve asked to write something about Calypso. Honored actually.
My sister Becky, who John sometimes wrote about, came the next day after hearing the news, and my brother Richard who lived here in Puerto for a little while, who John also wrote about, came to give me LOTS of love and support mentally and physically.
You were all an extended family to John and that made me happy knowing that he had people that cared about him, about his views and opinions. I have nothing to hide, my life is an open book he would say.
He loved to write and take photos of everything even if it was only for his entertainment. He would laugh sometimes when he wrote a blog and say,
“I crack myself up”.
I think John always gave people the opportunity to express their ideas and he was willing to be flexible.
I will not go into all the pain and suffering that my love experienced because that is how John was. He even wrote a blog about not wanting to hear about everyone's drugs they are taking or the ailment of the day. He was strong and silent, but now he is whole and suffers no more.
He was my best friend and I could say anything to him about anything and he would support me and love me.
He loved living in Mexico and wanted to die in this house. He had a spectacular view of the ocean, sunrises, and a peaceful view of the night lights of the stars.
John was cremated as requested and I will be taking him back to the USA to be left at the Grand Canyon. He loved it there and frequently asked to go back when in the USA.
I cry when I read the words in Steve's blog about my honey.
It brings me joy to the heart when I read the kind words in the comments.
Love from Anita
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
What do you do while pondering how to remove a flat tire?
Last Wednesday, a rock in the road gave me the opportunity to consider such philosophical questions. (moving to mexico -- driving the demons). When I tried to change the resulting flat tire, I discovered that local tire shops using wrong-sized wrenches to remove my lug nuts had deformed the soft metal caps on some of my nuts. No matter how I tried, my wrench would not fit on two of them.
While considering my options, I decided to do something I have long wanted to do. During the eight years I have lived here, I have driven past acres of banana plantations wondering what it would be like to wander through the seemingly-endless rows.
It is easy to pick up information about bananas around here. Some of it is even accurate.
Bananas do not grow on trees. They grow on plants. The difference is important because only one stalk of bananas grows on each plant. When the stalk is cut, there is no more need for the plant. It has served its duty and will receive the Marie Antoinette treatment right at the ground.
Commercial bananas do not reproduce sexually. They are all clones of one another. Once a banana plant is in the ground, it will propagate through shoots from the sister plant.
One of the weaknesses of cloned plants is their susceptibility to disease. Once a disease starts in one banana plant, the entire stock of that variety will eventually die. That is currently occuring to the most common commercial variety, the Cavendish. No one is certain when the variety will die out. But it will be soon. Fortunately, other varieties are waiting in the wings.
And, if you need bar bet material, this one should put pesos in your pants. Bananas are part of the berry family. That is, if you speak Botanese.
But none of that was going through my mind as I started my little trek through the bananas. When you are wandering through what appears to be a magical place, the science simply does not matter.
The banana body bags hanging over each stalk look even more eerie than they do when I am zooming past on the road. Up close, they appear to be right out of The Pod People.
Of course, they are not. Or, at least, I escaped without being subsumed into an alien form.
The first question visitors ask me is the purpose for the bags. Depending on who you ask, there appear to be at least three purposes.
The first has always struck me as a bit odd -- to provide a micro-climate to enhance the ripening of the bananas. That seems odd because our tropical climate would appear to offer the perfect macro-climate to ripen bananas. But I heard it from a grower. So, credit it how you will.
The second is the most frequent response -- to protect the fruit from the various pests that find bananas enticing. And they are legion. The covers are either impregnated with insecticides or a chemical strip is inserted into the bag to cut down on the loss to caterpillars, beetles, and a host of insects.
The third is quite intuitive. The bag acts as protection against fruit damage from the stem and leaves when the wind catches the banana bunch. The wind here is frequently strong enough to fling my paintings on the ground. Bananas are a bit more fragile.
But there I go again with the science. You don't need to know any of that to spend a short strioll through the bananas.
Like most aesthetic experiences, it is often better to not even know that there is such a thing as the scientific method.
Monday, January 16, 2017
even zorro wore one
"The Mexican, whether young or old, crillo or mestizo, general or laborer or lawyer, seems to me to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself: his face is a mask and so is his smile."
Now and then, I pick up my copy of Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude (a book I would highly recommend to anyone who takes living in Mexico seriously) to renew my attempts to better understand my Mexican neighbors. I am constantly perplexed at the contradictions I see daily. Neighbors who are friendly on the surface, but who are still obviously distant -- even in personal conversations.
I do not expect to ever crack the enigma. I doubt I ever could as an outsider. Certain attitudes simply become culturally hardwired for those who grow up here. I didn't grow up here. And I do not anticipate being able to do anything more than see Mexico through the eyes of people who see the contradictions -- even if they may not be able to fully describe them.
For me, Octavio Paz is one of those guides. Along with Jorge Castañeda. The fact that both of them were men of the left helps to explain their fondness for Hegelian contradictions. Or, at least, seeing the world through the prism of Hegelian contradictions.
Most of us northerners are usually happy to settle for seeing our Mexican neighbors through eyes that are forgiving of contradiction -- and, at best, vaguely patronizing; at worst, imperialistic lite. And, viewed only on the surface, Mexico appears to be made up of people who accept fate with a certain elan -- if not fatalism. People who are always open and helpful to those around them. People who are always willing to lend a hand.
But, by being satisfied with the surface, we miss the interesting truth under the surface.
And it is not just Mexicans who wear masks. I suspect the fact that Octavio Paz's chapter on "Mexican Masks" has made the mask theory so prevalent in the context of Mexican culture. But we all wear them. And for the same reason -- to protect ourselves. From one another. But also from reality.
Any dinner party is a testing ground for masks. You can almost see the woman to your right slipping hers on during the soup course. And there is very likelihood anyone will be able to slip past its Lone Ranger ambiguity.
During my stay in pilot school in Laredo, I attended more than my share of receptions. Almost the first question out of the wives of senior officers was: "And what does your father do for a living?"
Of course, it translated into: "Are you someone worth spending my time on -- or should I go talk to that young officer over there?" I usually made the choice easy by responding with something whimsical. "He runs guns to Bolivia." And, for all I knew, that was true. But it usually sent my interlocutor scurrying away. My mask remained firmly in place.
Several of my old friends and family members have told me they read my blog for only one reason -- they want to hear what I had been doing between my 20s and 60s. Apparently, I have a reputation for not being very forthcoming with my life. At least, not until stories ferment for several decades.
Maybe that is why I am so fascinated with Paz's observations. Mexicans use their face and smile to mask themselves, but so do I.
And I will put $50,000 (Mx) on the barrel head that you do, as well.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
caught in charlotte's web
When people tell me to slow down to smell the roses, they usually do not have this photograph in mind.
Darrel and Christy have made my life a lot more enjoyable this past month. Starting with my morning walk.
When I walk, I walk for time and distance. I am almost unconscious of the people and scenery I pass. I think it was Charles Emerson Winchester III who said: "I do one thing at a time. I do it well. Then, I move on." He was my kind of character.
Darrel and Christy have a different walking style. They are what I call diversity walkers. They cover a good deal of territory, but they also pay attention to what is going on around them.
The other morning, we took a stroll on the old road heading out of town through country so bucolic you would almost expect to see Aunt Bee and Opie wandering around.
Unlike our summers, the winter months are cool enough that dew forms on almost everything. If I leave my exercise shirt to air in the courtyard, in the morning it is almost as damp as when I took it off.
It also lights up nature. The dew, that is. Not my sweaty shirt.
Without the dewy highlights, we would have walked past this large patch of overgrowth.
Instead, we stopped and waited for the next performance on those obvious fairy rings. Even someone with chronic arachnophobia would have been entranced.
I have only one fear, and it is not of spiders. So, our little discovery was a double treat for me.
And thanks to my brother and sister-in-law, I actually slowed down to witness one of the treats this area of Mexico offers.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
happy birthday to me
I have been living a lie. At least, telling one.
For well over a decade, whenever anyone would ask my age, I would respond "68." Early on, it was fun because the response was: "My goodness, you don't look that old." But it soon lost its edge when my little prevarication occasioned no response.
Well, it is time to pump some more gas into the misdirection tank. I rather like the sound of "79."
I have not celebrated my birthday in the company of others for some time. Two years ago, I celebrated my birthday in Campeche, on the Yucatán peninsula, with my cousins Dan and Patty (¡yo quiero campeche!). But this year, I had a crowd of five (plus two dogs) to help me fill out my lap around the sun.
My neighbor, Jaime is a local fisherman. He has been trying to get me into his fishing launch since I moved into my house. I had politely declined.
I have no particular dislike of being out on the water. It is just not one of those activities I wake up thinking I absolutely must do that day.
My brother and sister-in-law, however, are boat people. Power boat people. If you can propel anything that floats through the water at high speeds, they will be delighted.
I saw Jaime in his yard when Christy and I returned from our morning walk, and asked him if his boat would be available today. It was. So, all six of us loaded into his boat to take a spin around our bay.
Initially, I thought they would enjoy a tour of our lagoon. There are plenty of birds and boats to see. But, when I saw that one of the options was a trip into the Pacific to see the Los Llanitos.
The Los Llanitos is a rather recent tour attraction. On 23 October 2015, those of us who had decided to ride out hurricane Patricia were hunkering down into our dens. But not the captain of the bulk carrier Los Llanitos. He decided he would try to outrun the storm along with his crew.
He lost. Even though the worst portion of the storm struck to our north, the seas simply pushed the full length of the 215 meter ship on the rocks just south of the entry to Navidad Bay. And that is where she rests to this day.
Mexico has more than its share of dramatic seascapes. Our mountains tend to cascade into the ocean in these parts. What is treacherous for ships is a cornucopia for those with a painter's eye.
As dramatic as the rocks are, they do not dwarf the size of the wreck. It is huge. If I did not know better, I would think it was a movie set. Perhaps, something out of Inception.
We did not dawdle long. The captain of the port has a boat on permanent patrol to ensure that interlopers do not violate a cordon sanitaire around the ship. And I understand why. All of us, basically being of pirate stock, wanted to board the wreck. Not for booty, but for adventure.
Having whetted our appetite for boating, I asked Jaime to extend the trip with a swing around the large lagoon that borders Barra de Navidad.
If the theme for the day was boats, it came in two very distinct varieties. The large, sleek yachts that populate the marina at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort.
And the not-so-sleek shrimp trawler that failed to withstand an earlier hurricane.
We returned to the dock just in time for lunch. Because everyone else has a certain preference for Mexican food, I suggested a local restaurant whose food tends to be consistent.
I am not particularly fond of boats. I am less fond of Mexican food. But I am very fond of spending time with my family and friends. And this day was fun because of that.
Tonight, I am making oyster mushroom sandwiches -- marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and onion, and topped with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, and feta. A Greek salad sounds like a great accompaniment. While enjoying our Mediterranean fare, we can swap tales of ship wrecks and ancient mariners.
And I can regale the young people with my days in the trenches of Gallipoli.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
moving to mexico -- driving the demons
It is not often that I return home and find a rig like this parked in friont of my house.
Because you are astute readers, you know that is not the sight I saw when I returned home from Manzanillo yesterday. The terrain does not scream Melaque.
But the rig was there. Just not in front of the house. It had already been detatched and parked in my garage when I made my tardy appearance.
I am obviously getting ahead of myself with my story. Let's back up a bit.
Let me introduce the guest members of the cast in our continuing situation comedy -- Laura; her huband, Josh; their eight-year-old son, Jeremiah; and their two dogs, Culprit and Eddy.
I have known Laura since she was born. Her parents and I were friends in the Air Force when we were all stationed in England. For various reasons, she became something of a surrogate daughter to me. When I heard that Josh and she had quit their jobs and sold their house in Portland to look for a new life, I invited them to stay at the house with no name on their journey.
And it has been quite a journey for them. Josh and Laura ride on the BMW motorcycle with Jeremiah in the side car and the dogs in the towed trailer. They have already covered thousands of miles -- many of them from Phoenix to my house.
I knew they were arriving from Puerto Vallarta around noon yesterday . That was something of a timing problem because I had a dental appointment in Manzanillo in the morning. With Darrel and Christy at the house, I had no concern. The fort was manned. And I knew I would return soon.
And all was going well. I was out of the dentist chair in time to grab a couple of items at Walmart and La Comer, and was on my way home well in time to meet my honored guests.
Of course, that is when the sabots get tossed into the machinery. Or, as I like to say, the clogs get tossed into the cogs.
I was within 15 miles of home when it happened. I had just passed two cars and was in the process of passing a very slow dump truck when it decided to dump one of its rocks right in the path of my car.
It was not a giant rock. With a bit of effort I could have lifted it, but I knew it was not a stranger to danger as far as the Escape was concerned.
I had a split second decision to make. Because of its size, I knew the rock would probably make only one bounce. I guessed it would head left. It didn't. It bounced right into my swerve.
I hit it with the inside of my front left tire and knew either the tire was dead or the undercarriage was damaged -- or both. The impact was hard enough that I momentarily thought we might roll. When I pulled over, I discovered the tire was flat.
No problem. I have changed tires before. But I was wrong. There was a problem. Even though three of the nuts came off easily, the wrench would not fit over the other two.
To cut a very long story short, I started to walk to Cihuatlán to see if I could find a tire repairman who would return to where I had left my car. Due to the kindness of an army sergeant and a helpful electrician on his way to another job, I found a repair shop.
With the tire off of the car, the damage was obvious. The inner rim of the wheel had been peeled back about the length of my hand. Juan (the tire repairman) and I shuttled between his shop and a welder. With the wheel welded into the semblance of a circle, the only step was to put the tire back on.
And here is what it looked like:
Obviously, I cannot drive around like that.
I need to return to Manzanillo on Monday for scheduled maintenance on the car. While it is being serviced, I will walk further into town and order two new tires. Even though the damaged one is only a year old, that hernia will do none of us any good.
Until then, I am not going to drive out of town until Monday. I can shuttle my guests hither and yon without too much haste.
Who knows? Maybe Josh will let me drive the motorcycle.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
killing the dragon
Every good adventure tale requires an exotic destination.
El Dorado. The Celestial City. Mordor. Shangi-La. And if a few pieces of gold, a dragon, and trolls are thrown in along the way, a rollicking tale it shall be.
We took one of those journeys together in gold on the beach, where we discovered a deserted beach with its own eerie history. Alas, there were no dragons or trolls. But there was gold -- and lots of it.
Finding the destination was easy. There is a "Playa de Oro" sign on the main highway directing the acolyte conquistador to the promised "X."
I was not so lucky in Greece. From my house, I could see an odd peak on the horizon amongst the mountains that ringed Patras. Several times, I set off in its direction, with map on hand, to find it. No matter which way I approached it, it was always out of reach. Like a Greco-Brigadoon.
My experience is that most adventures are of the second variety. We can get close to them, but they always slip through our fingers. Like moonbeams.
For the past eight years, an adventure destination has haunted me -- buildings on top of a rock that juts into the ocean on the western end of Melaque. I could see it from several vantage points -- its straight lines giving away its existence on the edge of the serrated rock. From the beach. From the ocean. Above it on the mirador.
I decided this week it was the time for adventure. So, we loaded our fellowship of the bling into my Escape and drove up into the hills as far as we could.
I knew a path led across the rocks for a mile or two. But it was a route for horses or pedestrians, not my SUV. Having earlier girded our loins, we set off down the road.
This was one of those adventures where the journey was far more interesting than the destination -- in a way. I have posted numerous photographs over the years of this handsome country made up of crashing surf and boat-crushing rocks. But I had never seen it from this angle.
Our sweat equity rewarded us with this view of the Pacific Ocean just before its forms Navidad Bay.
Comparisons are a tourist's stock in trade. So, I can say without the slightest twinge of guilt that these rock formations remind me a lot of the Oregon coast.
Call me provincial, if you like.
Even the view on the other side of the path, looking across the bay to Melaque, was rewarding.
Reaching our destination was a bit anti-climactic. Here it is.
Yup. It looks a bit like one of those villages Islamic State has captured and killed everyone whose religion differs from theirs.
But the place is more interesting that that. All ruins have a certain charm. Otherwise who would bother with trekking to Delphi? Even the oracle has left town.
The main building is just a concrete rectangle divided into two simple rooms.
I have been told several stories about the purpose of these buildings. That it is a hideout for outlaws. That it was a romantic hideaway for attorneys from Guadalajara. That it was once a restaurant.
I tend to believe the most prosaic of those tales. That it was once a restaurant with an ill-conceived business plan. But the writer in me kept hoping to find some evidence that it was a pirate lair.
Whatever it once was, it is now a love shack. The scores of discarded condoms is evidence enough of that. Not to mention that graffiti on the building declaring it to be the "HOUSE OF LOVE."
In its prior life, it even had its own restrooms -- with toilets that allowed the waste to tumble down the cliff face into the sea.
The turkey vultures added an exotic touch. After all, what adventure is worth its sodium chloride without a few carrion-eaters?
After taking a look around, I could not imagine why anyone would cart all of the material to build this complex out on these rocks. Who did he expect to attract all the way out here? What was his dream?
The answer is there. And it surrounded us on our walk on the path. It would be worth making the trip here to dine on veal piccata or chicken marsala if this was the accompanying view.
Who knows? I might even eat a taco in such a place.
Sunday, January 08, 2017
the days of steak and roses
I have not written much about my revised food intake and walking schedule lately.
There is is a good reason. I do not have much to tell you. And what I have to tell is not very encouraging.
For a few months, I had been walking several miles a day. That was the easy part of my get-with-it regime. One big circumstance ate into my walking schedule -- blisters. Blisters and the ensuing infection.
Other than days off to let my feet recover, I was thoroughly enjoying getting out every morning. I cannot say I enjoyed my environment. When I am walking, I could be walking through the Forest of Lórinand or a toxic chemical dump in New Jersey. It wouldn't matter. I am too fixated on keeping cadence.
My new food intake had been working rather well. Lots of vegetables. Very few fruits. Bits of chicken chopped up in stir fry. Lots of salads and soups. And as few carbohydrates as I could manage.
That worked well when I was here alone. I tossed out, or gave away, anything that would not help me stay on the straight and narrow. When I went out to restaurants, I often took a Greek salad or a chicken stir fry with me. (Eating at restaurants was one of my health undoings. I restricted my outings to places where I could socialize without creating a scene with my take-in routine. That was the grand total of two restaurants.)
As a result of my new food intake and my walking, jiggly thighs were replaced with muscle, my heart rate was reduced by almost one-third, my stress measurement went down, my waist size dropped three inches, I lost almost 12% of my body weight, and I felt great.
The arrival of my mother, brother, and sister-in-law threw a spanner into my Cuisinart. On the way from the airport, we stopped for groceries. It may be more accurate to say we stopped for carbohydrates, candy, and fruit.
Even with those new items in the house, I managed to stay away from them. My undoing was cooking for my guests.
I am a good cook. A very good cook. And when I cook, I like to show off my ingenuity and originality.
For the first few meals, my family ate what I had been eating. Even then, as you can tell from the photograph at the top of this essay, I started cheating. I love pasta. Having guests was a great excuse to slip some under one of my experimental stir fry dishes.
Then, my guests began craving large hunks of meat. The solution was easy. I have a great grill system in the courtyard where I could prepare full meals -- if I chose to. But, because I am not fond of big meat, I had never used the grill in the two years I had lived here.
While Darrel manned the grill, I whipped up some accompanying dishes. In this case, mint peas with shallots, and an interesting experiment with gemelli in a lemon, tomato, pine nut, and garlic sauce. It was a smash hit.
And that is how the month has passed. Not every meal is that large. Our evening meal is often nothing more than a salad or a light graze through the refrigerators. But there is much that I would not be eating if I were here on my own.
I know. I know. That is the same excuse that alcoholics use. It was my choice to eat what I cooked.
The alcoholic analogy may not be that far off. Last night, I bought a baguette from The French Bakery -- and ate the whole thing in bed along with a very healthy portion of duck pâté. Here is the alcoholic clue: I am not fond of bread. I may as well have been eating it out of a plain paper bag on Skid Row.
Now, that I am regularly walking in the morning again (my last round of infection was fought back with another round of antibiotics), it is time to take control of my food intake.
And my family need not suffer. For stir fry, I can eat the topping without the pasta or the rice. When we have steak night, I can cut up a little in my vegetables. And some things, I will simply not touch.
This new-found multi-cuisinity may not survive the week. Three more guests are arriving on Wednesday. And, at least one is a strict vegetarian.
I may just eat whatever I prepare for her.
Friday, January 06, 2017
greasing the skids of culture
It is the start of a new year.
For those of us who have chosen to make Mexico our home, it means paying for the local (and some not so local) services we use to live on the civilized side of the boundary between the good life and barbarism. And to be thankful that I am not paying for the same services north of the Rio Bravo.
My first stop in greasing the wheels of civilization was Tuesday at the Mexican post office. I have maintained a postal box in San Patricio for about six years now. It was a convenient way for someone else to mind my mail while I was playing the role of a tourist in other parts of the world.
I kept the box when I moved to Barra de Navidad. My Barra friends rate the service of the post office here as somewhere between neglectful and dreadful. The guys in San Patricio are efficient and friendly. And they are the source of some of my best local gossip.
The speed of the system is not the best. But that is a national problem. For all of this, I pay $300 (Mx) annually (the same as last year) for my box rental. About $14.13 (US).
I pay for the big trifecta in one place -- the local government office in Barra de Navidad. Yesterday, I had intended to take care of that payment plus three more. But this is Mexico. I made it only to one.
Even though the house is hooked up to the city water in the street, I use a well for my household needs (other than drinking water). But I put the sewer to good use. Our system is primitive -- and that is reflected in the cost.
The garbage I use a lot -- especially, with guests. We produce a full garbage sack of debris every other day. That matches well with the garbage pickup. It is not daily, but it is close.
The full cost for my annual use of water, sewer, and garbage was $1,576 (MX) -- an increase of $76 (Mx) from last year. About $74.22 (US). That low amount is one reason I give the garbage guys a generous cash bonus.
One of my least favorite times of the year up north was paying my property taxes. For some reason, I took a perverse joy in standing in a long line like a good peasant to shell over my hard-earned money to let the county and local governments fund their delusions of being my feudal lord.
The process is not a lot different here. I go to the equivalent of the county courthouse in Cihuatlán with my pesos. Usually, there is a long line at the desk to generate my billing. And then there is (usually) a longer line to pay the amount on the billing.
Not today. Darrel, Christy, and I were the only people on the payer side of the counter. We were in and out within four or five minutes.
Here is the best part. When we left, my wallet was only $1,846 (Mx) (the same amount as last year) lighter. Wait for this, you northerners who may have recently paid your own property tax. That is the equivalent of $86.93 -- for the full year. On my 4,000 square foot house.
And if I thought that was fast, I had a bigger surprise in store at our equivalent of the department of motor vehicles. Each year, every car owner must pay an annual registration fee. In our area, there is just one office.
Even though it sounds like a prescription for disaster (every car owner in the county descending on one small office in the same month), it works out like everything else in Mexico -- just fine, thank you.
The two prior years I have visited the office, there has been a healthy group of supplicants in front of me. There is no numbering system. Each of us simply paid attention who was there when we arrived, and everyone waited his turn.
Sure, there is always the rogue queue buster who thinks he is more important than anyone else in the room, but it works marvelously -- a perfect example of how libertarianism can work in practice. That is, if there could ever be a libertarian approach to a governmental office.
This morning, there was no need for me to put my David Friedman principles in operation. We were the only payers in the office.
There was a day, not too long ago, when renewing vehicle registrations required a minimum of two visits to the office. The vehicle owner would pay for the registration, then after a two week or two month wait, the printed decal would arrive from Guadalajara.
No more. The only system I have known is what happened today. I showed my current registration, paid my money, and one of the speediest government clerks I have ever seen in the world handed me my printed decal, and I was out the door. Total time? No more than two minutes.
I now have a new decal to add to the rear window of my car to show I have registered it for 2017. The cost? $496 (Mx) ($38 more than last year). There are not many American states (if there are any) where car registration can be had for $23.36 (US).
So, there you have it. For the total of $198.64 (US), I have a post office box; water, sewer, and garbage services; property taxes that are paid; and a road-legal car.
But that was not everything, I also stopped by Bancomer to pay for my annual bank trust deed fee.
Bank Trust Deed
Because I am a non-Mexican living in the restricted zone (and because I am not a Mexican corporation), I cannot own real property outright according to the Revolution-era constitution. But, I can hold a charade of fee simple ownership through the legal fiction of a bank trust deed.
The government pretends that the bank owns my property, and I pay the bank a sizable chunk of cash each year to maintain the pretense. The current amount is $522 (US). Yes, US. It turns out that a majority of international bonds and a lot of similar bank transactions throughout the world are denominated in US dollars.
My trust deed payment is not due until October. However, the only notice I ever receive that the amount is due is usually a week after I pay for the last year's fee. An almost breathless email arrived in late October informing me my next installment was due and must be paid or dire things would happen. The due date was October 2017.
Taking into account my ability to forget such things, I decided to pay the trust deed fee while I was in Cihuatlán today. Because my funds are in US dollars, currency fluctuations do not affect my financial situation. It would always be $522 (US) I owed -- even if one US dollar could buy 10,000 pesos.
And here is the bottom line. For one item, I paid $11,338 (Mx) -- on the same day I purchased a basket load of services for one-third that amount.
It is not the only reason (nor even a major one), but the bank trust deed is a rather good incentive for me to keep practicing my Spanish to attain Mexican citizenship. I still don't know if I will, but I should.
One of these Januarys, I will joyously omit my trip to Bancomer from my annual essay.
Even so, this week was a rather good reason why I love living in Mexico.
Thursday, January 05, 2017
kindle me this
OK. Where were we?
Oh, right. We were talking about how our electronic gadgets have usually made our lives a lot simpler -- at least, more efficient (slippery years).
I have written about my love of Kindles for so long, I doubt there is anyone who has stopped here before who thinks I will exclusively revert to hardbound books. I still buy them. But mainly to fill the library with reading material for guests. And to give those admitted to my library a hint of who I am.
During the past seven years, I have been through a series of Kindles. Two I lost. The rest have been upgrades.
Amazon has done an excellent job of improving each iteration. The biggest innovation was the Paperwhite -- with its side-lit screen that allowed reading in darkened room without suffering the eye fatigue caused by back-lit screens.
My first Paperwhite was stolen in 2014 in Manzanillo -- along with almost all the rest of my electronic gear. The thief made quite a haul.
When I replaced it, I did not pay close attention to the features on my new Kindle. Because I travel a lot outside of the range of internet, I need to have the ability to use the telephone 3G network to download periodicals and purchase new books.
I forgot to check the box to add that feature. So, for over two years, I have lived with limited capability. When I started having trouble with the USB connection, I decided it was time for a new reader.
As luck would have it, Amazon was offering a completely-new version. The Oasis.
The most noticeable feature is its size and weight. It weighs about half as much as a Paperwhite and the dimensions are slightly smaller and a bit more square -- even though the reading area of the screen is the same size.
Better than that, the screen has two and a half more LEDs to improve lighting consistency, and the page control buttons have returned in addition to keeping touch screen capability.
The unit with its cleverly-designed cover is so light, I have often forgotten where I put it. Usually, in my pants pocket. It took me very little time to completely adjust to its new controls.
The down side is its cost. The version I bought (with 3G and no "special offers" streaming across my screen) set me back almost $400 (US). Effectively, I lightened my wallet to shave a few ounces off of my Kindle.
When Amazon started selling the Kindle, it sold them at a loss. The company was interested in establishing a market, just as RCA Victor did with record players and butchers did with freezers. It would then make up its capital investment when customers bought books -- or records and sides of beef.
Once the electronic readers reached a saturation point, Amazon was free to develop and sell slightly-improved versions at a premium. Amazon is not alone. The smartphone market has created a new marketing paradigm. An entire group of consumers are not interested in sales or bargains. They are looking for cutting-edge technology. And Amazon has learned its lesson well.
As for me, just call me one of the suckers who enjoy owning a flashy smartphone* and, now, an even flashier Kindle.
Someone has to keep the American economy running.
* Or, since it is a Samsung Galaxy, should I say "flashing?"
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Years seem to slip by these days.
That is not the complaint of an old man. Well, it is. But not for the reason you think.
A friend of mine who lived in Minnesota once told me people in California looked so young because there are no seasons there. Days and months simply flow along with no differentiation in weather.
At least, that was his opinion. I now think he was on to something.
Take our lives in tropical coastal Mexico. Sure, there are some variations in the weather. Our mornings in January have a crispness to them that September mornings lack. But, other than that, our days tend to be rather similar with temperatures that match the percentage of votes the Democratic machine bosses in Chicago can produce.
Even the temporal milestones that once marked our lives have changed. I read my newspaper each morning on my Kindle. But the date at the top does not even register. What does it matter here whether it is Tuesday or Saturday? Or even January or July?
That thought struck me when I saw the sign at the top of this essay. 2017. What should I make of that? For all practical purposes, there is no difference between 2017 and 2009 for me. Denominating a year means next to nothing to me these days.
It once did. From a practical standpoint, the shift to a new year always presented me with a problem -- check-writing. For at least a month, I would use the dead year on my checks. At least once, a very dead year. In January 2005, I wrote a check for my lunch and slapped 1976 in the date line.
But that is no longer a problem. The concept of writing a check for lunch sounds about as arcane as asking a liveried footman to deliver my essays to your front door each morning.
There was a time when I would write four or five checks each day. No more. Other than the checks I once wrote to cover my rent in Villa Obregón, I have not written a check in years. And I see no reason why I would write one in the future. At least, I hope that is the case. I have no idea if I even have a checkbook any more.
What once took a check is either paid in cash or electronically from my bank. That is one of the advantages of this computer age. And, with Quicken, I can tell you to the centavo how much it costs me to live in the house with no name.
A friend of mine, who writes a blog about her life in Barra de Navidad, is not a fan of electronics. She does have a certain sense of irony to use a computer to do so.
Her position is that electronic devices get in the way of relationships. That people are abandoning their face-to-face contacts in favor of some virtual chimera of "friendship." She contends the cost of lost experiences is far too high for the few benefits electronics afford.
She does have a point. In a way. But part of that is simply railing against inevitable change. Communications are always evolving. And they are just a tool. We use the tools to create our own destiny. Well, at least, the minuscule portion of our destinies over which we have some impact.
But I am happy to not worry any more about the changes of our day. The similarity of winter to summer does not bother me.
And I am more than content to never worry about what year it may be.
Tuesday, January 03, 2017
everything old is new again
When writers for situation comedies have trouble coming up with new story ideas for an episode, they often rely on that hoary device of the indolent -- the clip show.
You have undoubtedly seen your share. The "new" episode hangs loosely around a pedestrian story notion, and is then told in flashback through assorted clips from previous episodes.
Well, that is what you are about to experience. At the end of every year, I cull through Mexpatriate's essays from the past year to review the most popular. And there is the rub.
"Most popular" is an elusive term. Choosing the criteria is tricky. The essay with the most page hits would be the obvious choice. My statistic data only shows the top 10 hits since I started using that software in 2008. Coincidentally, three posts from 2017 were on the agenda.
Because these lists usually have 10 selections, I needed seven more. For those, I decided to choose the seven with the most comments from viewers.
So, here we go, the top 10 essays of 2016 -- according to you and your peers. In reverse order.
10. the way is shut -- 9 January. This is probably my favorite episode of the season. Through a comedy of errors, I ended up locked out of my house, standing in the street in nothing but my underwear along with Barco. I can still remember walking down our main street carrying him on my way to find a locksmith.
9. down and out in garbageville -- 16 March. Someone stole my garbage can. That event led to a discussion about theft -- particularly in Mexico, but elsewhere, as well. Stealing from others seems to be one of the universals of human nature. The discussion reminded me of that bit of wisdom from The Kite Runner:
Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft... When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness... There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir.8. spanish tales -- 7 March. My relationship with Spanish has been even rockier than my relationships with women. That sentence defines why I am a monolingual bachelor. This episode summed up some of my advances and stumbles -- and, in comparison, my far-better relationship with Barco.
7. going commando with the japanese -- 13 June. My relationship with Spanish may be rocky. But my relationship with Mexican food is tempestuous. I steeled myself this summer to confess I found local Mexican restaurant food to be boring. I still feel that way. That essay unleashed a let's-beat-the-heretic-to-death storm.
6. wrapping it all up -- 1 January. This is the very essence of irony. A clip show using another clip show as a story arc. Hollywood awaits my genius. I suspect there were so many comments on this episode because a large portion of the essays were about the golden retriever puppy who had just joined our cast. His photograph led the piece.
5. trump-sanders -- a ticket in the wings -- 23 February. If you had not heard, the United States elected a president in 2016. In those heady days of the early primaries, it appeared two angry men might overturn the establishment's apple cart. Bernie Sanders was giving Hilary Clinton a run for her much-fabled money. And Donald Trump was turning 15 Republican contenders into kidney pie. In this episode, Mexpatriate predicted the perfect angry man ticket would be Trump-Sanders. Some people failed to see the humor. But it was not a year where humor had a big following.
4. i have come unstuck in time -- 20 June. I had a Kurt Vonnegut moment with my Spanish lessons this summer. At one point, I forgot almost everything I had learned. Where my memory once had a respectable Spanish file, there was a void larger than Copper Canyon. As I predicted, I have recovered some of my former skill. But not much.
3. barco's door -- 11 October. This was one of the more gratifying essays I wrote in 2016. Barco had died two days before. It took me that amount of time to sort through what he had meant to me in the short 10 months he lived with me. Writing the piece helped me to set aside my self-pity and realize what a blessing he had been for those months -- and to appreciate the gift of freedom he gave me through his death.
2. calypso is dead -- 29 December. Several people I knew (usually, only by their celebrity) died this year. But there was only one I knew well: John Calypso, a blogger pal. I am still very glad his wife Anita called me with the news. I know how difficult it was for her. But she told me she knew John would want me to know. I did. And I sorrowfully shared the news and joyously shared his life in this too-brief essay.
1. barcupdate #3 -- 10 October. When Barco went into surgery to repair his turned stomach, I started a series of barcupdates hoping they would have the inevitable happy ending. After all, he was a golden retriever, and everything in life goes well for them. Not this time. In barcupdate #3 I told you the sad news that he did not survive his recovery from surgery. I was glad to be with him when he died. Even more, I was astounded at the support and comments I received from all of you. Thank you, once again. Whenever I am tempted to euthanize Mexpatriate, I remember moments like this, and slog on.
So, there it is. 2016 in a Mexpatriate shell.
Overall, like all years, it was mostly a good experience. Even the tragedies added something to my life.
Here's to all of you. May you each have a contented new year.
Monday, January 02, 2017
letting the cow out of the bag
In cooking the guest, I told you about our family choice for Christmas dinner: "What we settled on was a family favorite. Prime rib. For $2,000 (Mx), my favorite butcher was able to provide a rib roast weighing in at just under 5 kilograms."
That passing reference to "my favorite butcher" resulted in several telephone calls and email. Most of them along the lines of "Who is the butcher and why are you hiding his identify from us?"
It is confession time. I was playing cat and mouse with you. But it was for a very good reason. Well, a very selfish one.
When the prime rib arrived at the butcher on the Thursday before Christmas, it was not 5 kilograms. It was almost 10. But that was too large for our family to eat and the oven to accommodate. So, I asked the butcher to cut it in half.
We took half home, and he put the rump in his freezer. I could tell by the look on his face that he would have preferred to sell the whole thing right then. It was a lot of capital investment to be sitting in a freezer.
As we walked away, I knew I would be back -- if the meat turned out to be good. It was. In fact, it was one of the most tender cuts of prime rib I have eaten -- as well as being well-marbled and full of beefy flavor.
We still had plenty of left-over prime rib in the refrigerator when I told Darrel we needed to buy the other half. And so we did.
The title of this essay? It was Darrel's idea. We share a gene that takes great pleasure in twisting clichés into witty pretzels.
When I said I was going to disclose the secret butcher's name, he responded: "Ah. You are going to let the cow out of the bag." And, so I am.
The name will have value only to those of you who live here and eat beef. The butcher is La Vaquita Feliz. The Happy Cow. I buy most of my major meat there.
When I first moved down here, finding specialty meat was a problem. As NAFTA has slipped into full operation and Mexico has reduced its health restrictions on American beef, almost any meat can be special ordered.
Christy had a list of items she wanted available when she moved to Mexico. Prime rib was near the top.
Just another good reason why Mexico is such a commodious place to live.
Sunday, January 01, 2017
blasting my way to joy
Noise is a Mexican tradition.
I have no idea why that is. But, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Revolution Day, Independence, or any random Tuesday, neighborhoods throughout Mexico devolve into reenactments of the Battle of Pueblo with firecrackers designed to blow parota stumps out of the ground.
Last Sunday, my neighbors were good enough to share their fireworks with me while I was trying to sleep (sharing time). When I got up to see what was happening on the street in front of my house, the neighborhood kids (and several adults) were having the time of their lives blowing up this and that bit of debris.
Rather than letting myself turn into a moody old northerner last night, I decided to join in the fun. The elderly couple who sell snacks from their front porch to the middle school students going and coming from school, also sell fireworks at this time of year.
So, I went over to look at the selection. The couple's daughter brought out a rather nice assortment. What I wanted was some of the loudest options. And there they are at the top of this essay. Fifteen blockbusters that the United States could have effectively used on Berlin or Tokyo seventy years ago.
The lot set me back $60 (Mx). Just under $3 (US). For a bag of mayhem and joy.
No one waits until midnight around here to start celebrating -- especially with firecrackers. Sporadic blasts have pulsated through the dark during the past three nights. But, around 9 PM last night, the pace ticked up.
Christy, Darrel, and I had decided to watch a movie after dinner. Match Point. A Woody Allen film loosely based on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment -- with the type of twists we expect in Woody's better films.
We had just finished our discussion of what we had watched when the neighborhood took another notch up in blasting fervor. That was my cue to grab my firecracker bag and head outside -- even though it was only about 10. But that is late for my brother and sister-in-law who usually snuggle into bed around 8 or so.
Within minutes, we were part of the group. Lighting the crackers in the open. Then under cardboard boxes. (I learned in the fourth grade that fast fuses and firecrackers limit the options of tossing them -- something my young comrades apparently had not yet learned.)
Somewhere deep in my soul my love of noises and mayhem leads a solitary life for most of the year. Last night, I let it have its head.
That is, until a neighbor up the street asked us to move our demolition derby. Being a compliant northerner, I started heading into the house. My Mexican adult neighbors called me back. Having been challenged, they were now going to put on a full-front assault.
Not wanting to get involved in that type of tit-for-tat, I handed my bag to the lead boy, and retreated to my home. After all, I had had enough fun for one night. And knew there would be more opportunities. Many more.
The barrage continued for another couple of hours. I was glad to have been part of it.
Maybe I can recruit the kids to add another opportunity to blast away. The Fourth of July might be a good candidate.
I hope you all have a very content new year. Mine has started perfectly.
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